The anthropological case for infant formula

baby milk bottle

Is there anything more hypocritical than an individual dressed in clothes, sitting at a computer inside a climate controlled building, using the internet to insist that breastfeeding is best because it is natural?

That was my thought when I read Breastfeeding No Option? Women Need Remedies, Not Bullying by Robert D. Martin PhD, Emeritus Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Technology makes us human and formula is technology.

The article is a poor attempt to critique Courtney Jung’s book Lactivism.

Substantial evidence indicates that breastfeeding benefits the health of both mothers and babies. For biologists, this is only to be expected. Mammals, after all, are named after the Latin mamma for teat. Suckling originated in ancestral mammals around 200 million years ago and natural selection has honed it ever since. Female mammals became adapted not only for milk secretion and suckling but also for close mother-infant contact. Health authorities acted on evidence for natural advantages of breastfeeding by encouraging mothers to suckle babies as far as possible…

Actually substantial evidence indicates that the benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and on this blog I’ve repeatedly eviscerated most of the scientific claims that Prof. Martin makes in his piece. I won’t repeat that here. I’d rather address his anthropological argument.

Martin’s argument is bizarre on several levels.

Lactivism’s core weakness is that Jung fails to mention biology or evolution. Witness her absurd statement that “there has never been a time when all women breastfed”. If for any substantial period, breastfeeding had been eliminated to the extent seen today, our species would not exist. Suckling in mammals is universal and has that 200-million-year evolutionary history, so how likely is it that we can simply substitute formula for breastfeeding with no downside? No evolutionary biologist would defend this view.

1.It’s bizarre because it implies that breastfeeding is perfect and no biological process is perfect.

All reproduction, plant and animal, has an extraordinary high rate of wastage and humans are no different. Women are born with millions of eggs that will never be fertilized; men produce billions of sperm that will never get near an egg; 20% of established pregnancies end in miscarriage. We are still here because massive amounts of wastage are entirely compatible with population growth.

Breastfeeding is no different from any other aspect of reproduction; it also has a high failure rate. Babies whose mothers can’t make enough milk to support them simply die, and that happens in up to 15% of first time mothers. Evolution leads to survival of the fittest, which means that lots of death is inevitable. Our ability to breastfeed now is no better or worse that it was in prehistory. The only thing that has changed is that we are much less tolerant of dead babies.

2. It’s bizarre because it implies that using breastmilk substitutes (cow’s milk, goat’s milk, pap) is the equivalent of “eliminating” breastfeeding.

Jung’s claim is that women have always employed breastmilk substitutes either because they couldn’t produce enough breastmilk, because pain/infections/inconvenience led them to avoid breastfeeding, or to feed the babies of other women who died in childbirth. That’s incontrovertible. Controlling biological processes or even stopping them altogether does NOT lead the human species to die out.

Consider birth control. There has never been a time in human history when so many women are controlling their fertility yet the population is growing faster than it ever has before. How can that be? Because population growth depends on the ratio of births to deaths, not on the number of births. A woman who controls her fertility and gives birth to three children all of whom survive is evolutionarily more success than a woman who has no access to birth control and gives birth to five children only two of whom survive.

Formula works the same way. A woman who formula feeds three children who survive to adulthood is evolutionarily more successful than a woman who breastfeeds five children only two of whom survive. It has nothing to do with the feeding method and everything to do with the ratio of births to deaths.

Except in the case of extremely premature infants, there is no evidence that breastfeeding improves survival rates. In fact, it is easy access to formula that improves survival rates. For example, the UK has one of the lowest, if not the lowest, breastfeeding rates in the entire world and also has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the entire world.

Nonetheless, Martin insists:

But the elephant in the room is this: Few people today breastfeed to the extent that prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years before our species domesticated milk-yielding mammals around ten millennia ago. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that our hunting-and-gathering ancestors breastfed babies for at least three years, exclusively for the first six months or so and then combined with complementary feeding until weaning. Few mothers today come anywhere near that original pattern…

So what? Who cares?

Few people today live in caves to the extent that prevailed hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Few people today eat meat raw to the extent that prevailed hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Few people today are killed by wild animals to the extent that prevailed hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago infant mortality was astronomical and average life expectancy was 35 years. Why would we want to copy that?

Which leads us to the most bizarre aspect of Martin’s piece. Martin seems to think that mammary glands are the hallmark of human beings. But the hallmark of human beings — what distinguishes us from all other animals and is responsible for our astounding evolutionary success — is our technology.

3. The key to evolutionary succes is technology and  technology allows us to adapt to our environment faster than our genes alone allow.

Human beings dominate our planet in a way that no other higher order animal has ever done. We have spread to every climate and we outnumber all other large mammal species to an extraordinary extent. Why? Because we have used technology to adapt. You don’t need to have a degree in evolutionary biology to understand that many other species and every other human species has become extinct because they couldn’t adapt fast enough.

Technology makes us who we are today and formula is technology. Claiming formula must be inferior is like claiming central heating must be inferior because it is technology. It’s like claiming that agriculture muse be inferior because involves technology. It’s like claiming that medicine, air travel and communicating through the Internet are bad because they are technology, too. It is a facile argument that falls apart on even cursory examination.

Sure breasts make us mammals. But it is technology that makes us human and formula is technology.

  • Tigger_the_Wing

    Slightly off-topic:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/let-it-burn-why-you-should-let-fevers-run-their-course?ref=home

    This whole article appears to me to be a mish-mash of contradictory and unevidenced claims with an appeal to ancient wisdom in the form of Hippocrates and his ‘four humours’. So what if Bayer created ‘Aspirin’ in the nineteenth century? Doesn’t Dr. Offit know that humans were using willow bark infusions for pain and fever for centuries? Anyway, doesn’t the advice to let a fever run its course only apply to moderate fever?

    I’m disappointed that someone as well-known as Dr. Offit would publish a piece like that with no citations at all, let alone to modern research, or even any referral to replication of the old experiments.

    • FallsAngel

      Hate to disagree with a friend, but. . .

      If you click on the underlined words (in the article), you will be taken to the references.

      Aspirin is acetylsaliscylic acid (ASA); willow bark tea is salicylic acid, the raw material from which ASA is made. That’s very thumbnail, of course. Commercial aspirin is better quality than making a tea of whatever willow tree happens to be in the vicinity.
      Here’s a good article: https://home-remedies.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-aspirin-from-willow-tree-0142525/

      As far as letting fever run its course, when I worked in peds, we had two groups of parents (again, simplisitic, but it’ll work for this purpose). Group I wanted to treat any fever, including those that we didn’t really consider fevers, say a temperature under 100 F (37.7 C). Group II wanted to “let the fever do its job” and didn’t want to treat it at all. I would say Group I was larger, and had its subsets of people who wanted to treat at a certain point. Our policy was to discourage medicating kids for very low-grade temps, certainly those below 100 F. For the others, we recommended Tylenol first. For extremely high temps, Tylenol and ibuprofen could be alternated. The general philosophy was to “treat the patient, not the fever” as one of our more conservative docs liked to say.

      All of this applies to older kids. For kids under 3 months, we wanted to see a baby with any fever. For older babies on up, we used our judgement as to whether the child needed to be seen or could do with “watchful waiting” and TLC. Higher temps and/or younger age got you in to the office faster.

      Ed to clarify.

      • A long fever in an adult is also a lot worse than a long fever in a child. I learned that the hard way :/. My mom and pediatrician didn’t get very concerned if I had a fever for 5 days, so long as I was otherwise okay, so when I had a fairly low-grade fever and sore throat for a week in college I just waited for it to pass. That worked out poorly.

        I had mono, and wound up in the hospital for 4 days on IV steroids to bring down the swelling in my throat. It was fairly miserable.

        • FallsAngel
          • That is useful! I had a fever over three days, severe headache, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heartrate- I asked my roommates to take me to the ER since it was night time and the student health center had already done nothing. On top of the mono, I was pretty badly dehydrated because it hurt so bad to eat or drink anything.

          • FallsAngel

            Sounds like an awful experience. Glad you’re better.

        • Tigger_the_Wing

          Nasty disease, that. I do hope it didn’t leave you with any ongoing problems.

          I had the same disease in my last year of school; it left me with/triggered two heart arrhythmia disorders, and meant that I did really badly in my ‘A’ Levels. Truly life-changing. I’d wanted to be a veterinary surgeon from early childhood; instead of going to university, I got a job as a junior lab technician in a medical research laboratory, and bought a motorbike for the commute. I joined the motorcycle club at work, where I was encouraged to learn to be a motorcycle instructor at the nearby training school. That was where I met another trainee instructor.

          Reader, I married him. 😉

          • No long-term effects, fortunately, and I actually made a very speedy recovery after leaving the hospital.

      • Tigger_the_Wing

        Thank you – I missed the underlining. Sorry for being misleading!
        (Please, do not hesitate to correct me when I’m wrong. I learn more that way!)

        I must say though, having read those links, that I wasn’t very impressed.

        First – 1992
        Second – 1983
        Third – 2000
        Fourth – 1990
        Fifth – 1989

        Surely, if there is a point to this, there would have been research done during this century (cue the arguments about whether it started in 2000 or 2001… 😉 )

        I’m afraid it was so long ago that I have quite forgotten where I learned this, and I would really like to know if the advice has changed, but as long as I can remember it was important to keep a fever below 42ºC or damage could result; but is that really high enough to ‘cook’ a living body (Sous-vide starts at around 55ºC)?

        • FallsAngel

          Here is some really good information on fevers in kids: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/fever-myths-versus-facts/

          You have some good points about Offit’s sources.

        • Chi

          Okay, admittedly it’s been a while since I did High School Biology (15 years give or take) but if I remember correctly, the reason that high fevers (above 40ºC) are dangerous is that when your core temperature gets too high, it starts to do wonky things to your body on a molecular level.

          Specifically it starts to denature the proteins that make up the enzymes in your cells. Because enzymes are needed as catalysts in pretty much all biochemical reactions in the body, if your enzymes become denatured due to excessive exposure to high temperatures, they can no longer bind to their respective substrates and make the required end product.

          So it’s not about cooking the whole body, more about cooking tiny parts of the body that are kind of necessary for function.

          • Kerlyssa

            yup

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            Thank you – your High School Biology is considerably more recent than mine (I took A Level Biology in 1976) or even my certificate in Applied Biology that I took on day release (from my Big Pharma job) in 1978.

            I imagine that prolonged exposure to temperatures that are high enough to denature any protein could cause a lot of damage.

  • StephanieJR

    OT: Where’s Cia ‘Liar’ Parker got to nowadays? I wanna rub it in her face that Amy got her myxi vaccine today, and was far more stressed by the car ride.

  • CSN0116

    RE: the loons who have invaded Dr. Amy’s FB page. Wow, what a mystifying glimpse inside their world (of which I do not visit). The language they use and their utter hatred towards anything that challenges their belief set reminds me of this really fascinating research that examines the amount of suffering and self-sacrifice that young men completing rites of passage in the Mormon church endure, and how that suffering facilitates an unwavering faith and commitment to the cause and religion. That is, the more people allow themselves to suffer for a cause, the more attached they become to it. The more resistant they become to anything contrary. The beeastfeeding “journey” is like the two-year “journey” Mormon men take. Needing to fall in good graces in the afterlife pales in comparison to the need to stay faithful in order to justify the self-inflicted suffering. So much overlap.

    Lactivism is a religion.

    • Daleth

      Lactivism is a religion.

      Yes. Actually I think it’s a tenet of two different religions.

      On the political left, the religion is Nature: “Natural” is always better; how can something natural hurt anyone; nature is designed to benefit or cooperate with us, so we just need to cooperate with it, and everything will be fine. Natural immunity! Natural food! Natural childbirth! Etc.

      On the political right, the religion is the Christian God: He designed women’s breasts to feed babies, He designed women’s bodies to gestate and birth babies, He designed us to suffer in childbirth, He doesn’t make mistakes. We have to follow His will, which means we have to use our uteri to carry babies, our vaginas to birth them (without pain relief since He made it painful for some mysterious reason we don’t need to understand), and our breasts to feed them.

      • Claire Secrist

        Eve listening to the serpent is why it’s painful. She screwed up and all women have to pay. Super delightful point of view, right?

        • Roadstergal

          And wanting to know things. “Yo, girl, f you’ll eat that, you’ll learn some stuff.” “Hey, I’d like that!” Punishment!! Not a very subtle warning.

          And really, God lied and the snake was right. God said you’d die; the snake said you’d learn things.

        • Daleth

          Hey, totally makes sense to me. Not.

          You know what else has never made sense to me? The concept that “Jesus died for your sins” (or died so that you could be saved despite your sins, etc.). SayWhutNow? How… how on earth… how does somebody dying painfully relate, in any way, to whether God is able to forgive my sins? WTF? That makes no sense at all!

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Or as my heretical teen self noted “If God’s omnipotent, why would he -need- to sacrifice himself/his son to open up heaven to all the good people?” That and the trinity thing just doesn’t click with me. Good thing I found a super liberal congregation who lets me go to potlucks and sing in the choir and ignore my occasional snicker.

          • Allie

            The thing I’ve never understood is the timing thing. Like, he died for our sins in 33 AD or something like that, but we have continued to sin horribly since then. So did he die to redeem our past sins or also our future sins? Or just the original sin (by which we are all tainted, though we weren’t there and had nothing to do with it)? Note: when you ask these questions in Catechism, you have to write lines. Nuns do not like questions.

          • BeatriceC

            You too? Or bring up the contemporaneous use of the word that we have translated to “virgin”. It doesn’t mean what we think it means. That gets you welted hands, for the record.

          • Oh, I find it worse than that! It’s downright evil, is what it is. How is punishing someone for what someone else did acceptable in any way? Or just? Or anything other than pure malice?

          • AnnaPDE

            It totally makes sense in a culture where the scapegoat and whipping boy were not metaphors but actual practices of dealing with people doing wrong.

          • Daleth

            It totally makes sense in a culture where the scapegoat and whipping boy were not metaphors but actual practices of dealing with people doing wrong.

            That’s a good point. And it’s also yet another reason why the concept of Jesus dying for our sins is idiotic.

            Call me weird but I expect the all-knowing, infinitely loving creator of the universe to be smarter, wiser and more loving than me.

            So if you worship a god whose best solution to the problem of sin is to torture one innocent person to death, and who won’t let anyone else into heaven unless that one person is first tortured to death–which even I can see is a stupid, sadistic and unethical “solution” to the problem of sin–well then, I don’t know who you’re worshipping, but it sure doesn’t sound like the all-knowing, infinitely loving creator of the universe.

            Actually I do have a pretty solid guess as to who you’re worshipping. But let’s not get into that right now.

        • BeatriceC

          So here’s a point of Catholic doctrine that has always bugged me. The concept of original sin is that there was a first sin, and since thin, all people are born with the capacity to sin, therefore “being born with original sin” is simply being born human with the ability to screw up. The immaculate conception, or the conception of a person born without original sin, was the conception of Mary. That’s what made her worthy of carrying Jesus, the son of God, right? The actual “original sin” was the Eve listening to the serpent and eating from the tree of knowledge. It is that sin for which all women pay by enduring painful childbirth. So if Mary was born without original sin, shouldn’t the birth of Jesus have been painless? I can’t recall the bible verses offhand, but I recall priests and nuns teaching us about that and various artistic descriptions of the even and it all points to Jesus’s birth being painful and scary. But if Mary was born without original sin then she shouldn’t be paying for Eve’s mistake, and therefore childbirth should be painless.

          And these are the things I started wondering about as early as about first or second grade, because it doesn’t make sense.

          • maidmarian555

            I’ve been told that Mary birthed without pain (precisely because she was without this original sin and therefore didn’t need to be punished like the rest of us) but, frankly, I think the position on whether she birthed pain free or birthed in agony is literally down to the perspective of whoever it is telling the story and what message they are trying to deliver at that particular time. It changes, there doesn’t appear to be a clear line on it because it’s useful to be able to tell teen girls she was in agony, whilst telling married women because of her lack of sin, she was without pain. They just make it all up as they’re going along, I am absolutely sure of that.

          • BeatriceC

            I was always told that using pain drugs in labor was against god because Mary was able to endure the pain of labor with grace, so I should be able to as well. That was even after I was married.

            I completely agree that they’re making it up as they go along. There’s a number of inconsistencies and I was getting in trouble as early as the first grade for asking questions about them. I hated those damned nuns with a passion.

          • maidmarian555

            We were dragged to a Baptist church throughout my childhood but then my mum got into a full-on evangelical cult (they’re called the Message of the Hour and their founder was pally with Jim Jones- I shit you not). At that point my agnostic father put his foot down and told her if we didn’t want to go to church then we didn’t have to (I was a teenager and MotH girls aren’t allowed to cut their hair or wear trousers, amongst other ridiculous things and I was a tomboy that loved football so it really wasn’t a good fit for me). You aren’t supposed to ask questions (and this is the same regardless of what flavour your Christianity takes). You’re just supposed to accept whatever the minister tells you, regardless if the one in the next church along has a totally different take. They’re all pretty crap when it comes to issues that directly affect women as most of the people making the rules up have penises and will never have to suffer through childbirth themselves (I can guarantee you if they did that the random rules would suddenly include having all the pain medication during childbirth).

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            Probably part of why the immaculate conception notion isn’t really in any protestant church i’ve sent the yuletide in.

          • BeatriceC

            I also think that one of the reasons that catechism instructors don’t worry too much to correct the notion that the immaculate conception is Jesus’s conception is so they can use the whole pain of labor thing to their advantage. After all, if people don’t know who’s conception the immaculate conception actually was, it can change according to the needs of the person trying to lay the guilt trip.

          • I’ve heard that it’s been taught that Mary had no labor pain. It’s not an official doctrine to my knowledge.

    • lsn

      Geez, you go away for a long weekend and the page goes batshit. WTF, was it a full moon somewhere or what?

    • Who?

      What is it about Facebook? I don’t generally partake, but ducked over for a look and OMG who are these horrible people? Going on (and on and on) about wanting natural purity for their children while spouting foul-mouthed bile.

      Back to my yoga page and my friends who seem to do long walks, holidays or sell their home made produce at the local market. Much more my speed.

      • momofone

        Same here. I visited but didn’t stick around. Back to dogs and baby photos and rational people for me.

  • MaineJen

    Please Dr. Martin, mansplain to us some more about what we should do with our bodies. :/

  • Zornorph

    Glass of milk
    Standing in between extinction in the cold
    And explosive radiating growth
    So the warm blood flows
    Through the large four-chambered heart
    Maintaining the very high metabolism rate they have

    Mammal, mammal (Mammal, mammal)
    Their names are called
    They raise a paw
    The bat, the cat
    Dolphin and dog (Mammal)
    Koala bear and hog (Mammal)

  • anh

    Today I worked out a plan with my pediatrician to get my daughter some high calorie formula. This child will not eat enough! I had blamed a low supply but I realise now, considering how often I’ve been baptised in EBM or formula, that even if my boobs were fountains she’d just puke it up.
    Between this and her SB I have to acknowledge that twits like this guy would prefer her to be dead, which is what would happen absent medical intervention. And that makes me furious because she’s super awesome. Aren’t their more interesting topics anthropologists can write about?

  • crazy mama, PhD

    Does anyone have any idea what his “multiple lines of evidence” for the
    “at least three years” claim are? Or the “4 to 7 years” that I keep
    seeing thrown around by lactivists? The sources I’ve encountered (note: I am not an anthropologist) suggest that modern hunter-gatherer societies typically wean at age 2.5–3ish.

    see, e.g., the figure here, although note that the data are from a study published in 1964.

    • Casual Verbosity

      I can’t answer your question about where those numbers come from, but I think it’s interesting that they leap straight from “We used to do it this way” to “Therefore we should keep doing it”. When historians and anthropologists talk about the way that we used to do other things, like eat every part of an animal to reduce wastage, or cook over and open fire, they do so with an awareness that that was the best way to do things in that context. But for some reason with extended breastfeeding they take the act as being inherently good, rather than instrumentally good within its context. Yes, if there isn’t a lot of food to go around and you have a lactating woman available, it makes sense for her to feed her children (and other people’s children) for as long as possible. But when we’re talking about the context of 21st Century developed nations, most people have enough food to go around, extended breastfeeding is not particularly adaptive in this context. It probably won’t hurt, but it’s not going to benefit your child in any way. FFS, if breastmilk is that beneficial, why stop at all?

      • Ms. Sweaterfan

        I also don’t know where the claim comes from or if it’s even true, but if it was the case that mothers nursed longer at earlier points in history, I wonder if it’s possible that it was because it benefited them in some way (I’m thinking birth control) rather than providing the magical breastmilk juju to their offspring for 3+ years.

        • MaineJen

          During times of famine, there may have been nothing else to feed them 🙁

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          “Why did primative cultures breastfeed for three years?”
          “Because they didn’t have Gerber baby food available!”

          “Why don’t we breastfeed for three years now?”
          “Because we don’t have to. We have alternatives.”

          Seriously, it really is that simple.

    • Valerie

      I remember there was some research (Katherine Dettwyler?), trying to estimate a “natural” weaning age based on anatomical comparisons to other mammals.

      • Ah, yes, good ol’ “Otto Warmbler got what he deserved,” “formula-fed babies are inferior” Katherine Dettwyler.

        • Valerie

          Right, they “definitely WILL BE INFERIOR” (emphasis hers).
          Somehow I missed her comments from the Warmbier tragedy. Atrocious.

      • Daleth

        trying to estimate a “natural” weaning age based on anatomical comparisons to other mammals.

        Well, when I was a kid my cat had babies when she was like 6 months old, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean human beings should do the same. I mean, the kid would only be 15 months old when its baby came along–how would it even change the baby’s diapers?!

        And if we convert that to a human life span, 6 months is still only about 1/10th of the lifespan of a cat in the wild, or 1/20th to 1/30th of the lifespan of a house cat. So are humans supposed to have babies when they’re… let’s see… about 4 years old (1/10th of 40 years, or 1/20th of 80 years)?

        • Valerie

          According to wikipedia, she came to the conclusion that weaning age in humans is somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years. So basically, sometime during childhood, children stop drinking breastmilk. Who would have guessed?

    • Roadstergal

      Juliet was 3.

      “But, as I said
      On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
      That shall she. Marry, I remember it well.
      ‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,
      And she was weaned – I never shall forget it –
      Of all the days of the year, upon that day.
      For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
      Sitting in the sun under the dovehouse wall.”

      Silly Nurse, not letting Juliet wean herself. She didn’t have lactivists to correct her.

  • mabelcruet

    Off topic a little, but I had great fun today enlightening a colleague about freebirthing, lotus birth and placenta art (those pictures where mothers are splatting the placenta onto paper and framing the resultant bloody splodge as art to hang on the wall). She’s a pathologist too. She didn’t close her mouth for 10 minutes and insisted I must be making this up.

  • StephanieA

    Every word of this is perfect. Thank you. A little OT, but has anyone read The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris? It makes attachment parenting seem so pointless (the premise is that peer group and genetics are much more important in determining how a child turns out rather than parenting).

  • Sarah

    Martin has just completely invented the claim about the species not surviving if we’d ever breastfed as little as we do today. He has no idea whether that’s true or not.

    Also, this is verging on NEWMANITIS.

    • Casual Verbosity

      People who don’t understand evolution really need to stop talking about it. Even people who claim to be pro-science atheists seem to use the concept of evolution as an intelligent-design argument dressed up in a lab-coat and protective goggles. They’ve pretty much taken the word “God” and replaced it with “Evolution” to give us gems such as: “Evolution designed us to do xyz”. Even seemingly more innocuous statements like: “We have evolved to do X to optimise survival” are based on a gross misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution did not design us to do anything. Evolution is not some person, or god, or entity that sat down at a table and thought about the best way for humans and the universe to function. If we have “evolved” for our bodies to function in a particular way, it simply means that for most of our history, functioning in this particular way was not so detrimental to survival that it caused everyone who functioned that way to die before passing their genes onto the next generation. That is all. Evolution isn’t a perfectionist. Evolution is like your mate Stevo who attends only the minimum number of classes required to pass the subject and shows up hungover to the exam. Evolution accepts whatever is enough to get by, and really doesn’t give a shit in general.

      • Roadstergal

        THIS!!

        • Casual Verbosity

          Next time someone anthropomorphises evolution I’m going to start referring to evolution as Stevo.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        “Evolution is like your mate Stevo who attends only the minimum number of classes required to pass the subject and shows up hungover to the exam. ”
        I am so stealing this…

        • Casual Verbosity

          Please do!

      • ukay

        This.

        OT: in this context I have wondered for some time about the statement that breastmilk changes its composition to optimally meet the baby’s needs. How would milk glands even know what nutrients the baby needs right now? Isn‘t it more likely that the milk changes to put less strain on the mother‘s system while still nourishing the baby? Wouldnt that go with the concept of trade offs in ecology? Can someone fill me in on/direct me to the science behind this composition-argument?

        • Who?

          And if that is true, how is donor milk any good?

          Just saying.

          • ukay

            Haha, I didnt even think of that!

        • kilda

          I don’t think there is any science behind it, it’s just a lactivist fantasy. Breast milk: the amazing living fluid that knows exactly what your baby needs at each moment! Except iron and vitamin D. For some reason it keeps forgetting those.

          • Daleth

            Except iron and vitamin D. For some reason it keeps forgetting those.

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! High five. 🙂

          • ukay

            no science ?? 🙁

          • ukay

            By chance I found the science. Apparently we have an official organ called the National Breastfeeding Comittee here? Anyways, those are the sources for their xöaims:

            Kunz C, Rodriguez M, Koletzko B, Jensen R (1999). Nutritional and biochemical properties of human milk, part I. General aspects, proteins and carbohydrates. Clin Perinatol. 26: 307-333.

            Rodriguez M, Koletzko B, Kunz C, Jensen R (1999). Nutritional and biochemical properties of human milk, part II. Lipids, micronutrients and bioactive factors. Clin Perinatol. 26: 335-359.

            Is anyone familiar with that?

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Yeah, I thought the whole basis for evolution is that “fittest” was a function of the environment, and if the environment changes, than what constitutes “fit” also changes?

        So yeah, “we evolved to do X” is true from an evolutionary standpoint, but you have to add “under conditions Y, Z and Q”

        Why should we think that how our bodies evolved and developed while our rodent-sized pre-primate mammalian ancestors were fighting for survival on the plains of Africa has any bearing on how we should live our lives in the 21st century?

        • Casual Verbosity

          Exactly. Trying to talk about evolution without reference to the environment is bound to lead to some wonky ideas.

        • Tigger_the_Wing

          Yep. All evolution means is that each of our ancestors over billions of generations, mutations and all, survived everything the environment threw at them for long enough to reproduce. It’s just biology, which is just really complicated chemistry.

      • Nick Sanders
        • Allie

          I’m sure Stevo produces something really neat once in a while, too. Maybe he was that guy who answered “why not” to the question “why” on a philosophy exam and got an A+. Gotta luv ya, Stevo : )

          • Casual Verbosity

            Stevo is definitely a smart-arse so he would definitely be that guy!

        • Casual Verbosity

          Wow! That really is neat! Go Stevo!

  • LaMont

    OTish: On Facebook, I recently made a point that Tammy Duckworth’s pregnancy is awesome, to no disputes. I followed up by saying that the image of Sen. Duckworth breastfeeding on the Senate floor while schooling Trump might not be the “rah rah feminism” moment some people are weirdly hoping for on Twitter – with many many disclaimers, I said that unless children are allowed in a workplace (and many workplaces ARE kid-friendly! yay!), it’s weird to privilege the breastfeeding relationship, and that it indicates that on some level we still consider women the primary parents, since no one would think it appropriate for a male Senator to bring a newborn onto the floor. I said that we should rather have better family leave policies and childcare, so that parents don’t feel pressured to drag breastfeeding infants into otherwise child-unfriendly spaces.

    The people who “liked” were an odd mix of my vanishingly-few breastphobic Republican friends, and a few mothers who breastfed (which led to some good discussion as well). Mostly depressing, but ah well.

    AND THEN some family members saw it, and tattled on me to MY PARENTS, saying that I was a horrific, uninformed (as a non-mom), anti-breastfeeding shrew who was publicly spewing insults at other people’s choices if I disagreed with them.

    Long story short, I’ve locked my account and am no longer posting to Facebook, after being a pretty consistent booster of progressive/feminist issues. Good riddance. Of course it would be THIS issue that chased me off Facebook. 🙁

    • Roadstergal

      Upvote for you venting about this, and not locking it up inside. Not upvoting for the actual incident. 🙁

      • LaMont

        Thanks… it’s going to be tough to stay off Fb – as my mom pointed out, if I had people in my real life I wouldn’t need to vent online so much anyway…

        • StephanieA

          I deactivated my Facebook after trump was elected. I couldn’t handle the fact that most of my family and friends dad voted for him, and since I take things to heart it was causing me a lot of anguish. It was hard at first but it’s been for the better.

          • LaMont

            Yeah I don’t have any Trumpers, which is why I tend to only really engage on stuff where my opinions are a bit “edge” relative to other libs, and I perceive I might add value to the discussion.

          • Claire Secrist

            I defriended my husband’s entire family and haven’t spoken to them since. They voted to take away our daughter’s access to healthcare. Actions have consequences.

          • StephanieA

            Good for you. I wish I had that kind of resolve.

    • ukay

      I know what you mean. I had the same feeling about the Australian MP breastfeeding in parliament, Larissa Waters. While parents should be enabled to feed their babies in the way they want, this display of über-mothering left a bad taste in my mouth. How is this a step forward for women s right to a fulfilling (professional) life outside of their families? She is a highly educated and successful woman and now she is known for breastfeeding. The vast majority of people cannot bring their children to work and to be honest, this is often for the best in most cases. Concentration and quality of work and parenting might suffer severely and some workplaces are dangerous. Flexibility in working hours, shared parental responsibility and accessible quality childcare would probably do the trick better.

      • Who?

        Agree completely. I am out and proud saying I don’t care for children in the workplace. I’ve done it in utter extremis, when in retrospect I probably wasn’t adding that much to the workplace given what else was going on that necessitated their being there. Sometimes it truly can’t be helped, and sometimes all of us go to work when our heads and hearts are elsewhere, and the work of the world still somehow gets done. And the kids survive.

        But this particular situation was nonsense.

        Also, the (former) senator is from Queensland, and I don’t know if her family lived in Canberra but if they didn’t, the baby also represented two return flights (one for baby, one for whoever is responsible for day to day care) from home to Canberra. Not a great look for the Greens.

        I also think babies are entitled to some privacy-that image will follow that child forever.

        Happy Australia Day! Planning to watch a fair bit of tennis…

      • Casual Verbosity

        As much as I am all for supporting women to make the choices that best suit them and their families, I was definitely hesitant to laud this situation as the victory that many portrayed it to be. I think there’s a fine line between making workplaces breastfeeding friendly to accommodate those who wish to breastfeed and using breastfeeding friendly workplaces to berate women who can’t/choose not to breastfeed. I did see many responses to the issue online to the effect of: “See ladies, going back to work is not an excuse not to breastfeed”. The truth is that Larissa’s situation is the exception, not the rule. It’s like all of those stories at the moment using a single 21 year old who managed to buy a house to undercut the fact that housing prices are at an all-time high. Or like taking Barack Obama and saying “Well if he managed to become president, then black people aren’t disadvantaged”. And even if it were the rule, women are not obligated to breastfeed.

    • Azuran

      I agree. Women have fought hard for a long time to be considered equals to men in the workplace. Despite everything we have achieved, there is still a long way to go. Young women are often still be seen as potential future maternity leaves, or mothers who won’t work late or take more day off to take care of the kids.

      Bringing your baby at work, and breastfeeding it WHILE WORKING only shows that women are indeed not invested as much as men in their work and will work less in order to take care of their babies. You are not as productive if you are taking care of a baby, making you a less valuable employee.

      • AnnaPDE

        The problem here is though that it’s expected for dads to prioritise their work over their children to an extent where that responsibility does not impact at all on their performance.

        The kid’s there, you can’t just switch it off during office hours, in fact it’s pretty high maintenance in its first year. Someone has to take care of it, and chances are it’s the parents who’d like to be that someone because a) it’s pretty expensive to do otherwise, and b) spending time with said kid is probably one of the reasons they had it in the first place.

        So with dad having to treat kids as a hobby that does not interfere with work, that leaves mum taking all of the impact of the post-birth period, too.

        This is not about women not pulling their weight, it’s about not allowing men to pull theirs and foisting that onto women, too.

      • mabelcruet

        We are banned from eating or drinking in the lab, so any breast feeding babies would be facing disciplinary action for not observing safety policies…

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Make sure they wear their safety goggles…

          • Charybdis

            And any other required PPE. Do they make gloves, labcoats, face shields, etc small enough for the babies?

            Ooooh! Would a nipple shield count as breast PPE?

          • mabelcruet

            But that would interfere with bonding, eye protection isn’t natural. You might as well pump the babe full of chemicals if you force them to wear plastic goggles. It would leech into their delicate baby skin and mutate their DNA and give them allergies and disrupt their microbiome. How could you, you heartless beast!

          • kilda

            next he’ll be wanting to put hats on them. Monster.

          • ukay

            What for, they protected by the colostrum.

    • CSN0116

      I much preferred the story of the female Yahoo CEO who went back to work just a few weeks after having twins, grabbed a nanny and slapped some formula on them. A woman after my own heart LOL

      Seriously though, maintain separate spheres a little bit, yo.

      • ukay

        And gross enough, the stock price fell when she announced she would only take two weeks maternity leave.

      • Merrie

        That whole episode seemed to have a flavor of “I don’t get why so many women make such a big deal about wanting time off to have a baby, I’m just going to dive right back in, because how much work can it really be?” Which bugged me.

        • Who?

          Pretty sure the CEO is never really ‘off’, unless actually unconscious.

          It might have actually been easier to just get the domestic stuff sorted and get back to work than try to be doing, and half-arsing, both.

        • ukay

          With her first child she built a nursery next to her office. That got her some outrage, because she banned home office,too. At the same time she improved paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. (16 weeks for mothers, 8 for fathers and adoptive parents)

        • Allie

          I agree, there was a sort of sanctimonious quality to it, like if it worked for her, every woman should do it. What women need is real choices that work for them. One woman might choose to spread her maternity benefits out over 18 months instead of 12 (which is apparently now an option where I live – you get the same amount of money, but you can spread it over a longer time period) and another woman might choose to RTW within weeks or even days of giving birth, and use formula or pump at work or whatever. There should be no judgment attached to a woman’s choice – one path isn’t better than the other for anyone except that particular mother.

    • Merrie

      I dunno.

      I think it would be great to have better family leave, but for someone who *wants* to go back to work, being able to bring the baby to work from time to time when your job involves a lot of sitting around and listening to testimony might not be the worst. Brand-new babies basically just lie around and sleep anyway. I don’t see much of a reason for a male Senator to bring a newborn to work, but I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape if he did. I don’t know as it privileges breastfeeding over any other feeding method to point out that (except in the occasional case with transgender parents) it is the mom who is going to be doing that, if anyone does, and the mom who has this biological tether to her child when she is away from him/her that her partner does not, and that sometimes that might impact on her choices.

      Also, it would freak Trump the f*ck out to see someone breastfeeding on the Senate floor, which might be another perk.

      It is hard to imagine bringing a baby to work being more than an occasional thing for anyone in most workplaces though (excluding a few obvious ones like day care centers). Babies are messy and you keep having to step out to change diapers. Not fun.

      I had my baby at work for a bit the other day, but that wasn’t the way I’d planned it. I was missing a part to my breast pump and my husband brought it and the kids in, so as long as the baby was there anyway I took him in back and nursed him. He’s 6 months old and at that distractible age, and he thought my nametag was a ton of fun. I passed him back to dad ASAP so I could get back to work. But I would have had to take a break one way or the other and it was probably faster to let him extract the milk directly than to pump.

  • Ms. Sweaterfan

    I came across an oldish (2012) article making the argument that since a mother only shares 50% of her DNA with her offspring, after the initial investment of pregnancy and early nursing, once the child can fend for itself, the mammal mother’s interest (in an evolutionary sense) returns to 1) her own well-being 2) making more offspring. So in this argument, three years (?) of nursing would not be ‘natural.’ Instead, a mammal would have a certain amount of mutually beneficial nursing – let’s say 6 months for humans – after which point the mother and baby’s interests would increasingly be in conflict, with the mother wishing to wean and the baby wishing to nurse, until the baby becomes capable of subsisting off of real food and is no longer interested in mother’s milk.

    I’m definitely not trying to combat naturalistic fallacy with naturalistic fallacy, though. Instead, I merely wanted to point out that Martin’s (apparently unsourced?) claim that “at least three years” of nursing was the norm for early humans is not the only explanation out there. And even if it were, that doesn’t mean all women should be expected to do it today. Whether or how long to nurse is a highly personal decision, and the availability of safe and reliable formula and clean water has freed many a mother and baby from unnecessary suffering.
    I for one am not interested in taking medical advice from an “Emeritus Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago” anyway (wtf?)

    Here’s a link to the article I referenced:
    https://www.chronicle.com/article/Parent-Child-Conflict-Its-in/130387?key=GT0nJV9rYC9AZytmMThHaDpVYXxtZUl3ZHdNPnpzbl5cGQ%3D%3D

    • Tigger_the_Wing

      Your suggestion of conflicting needs sounds much more likely than some pie-in-the-sky notion of enthusiastic long-term nursing. Eight months was my limit; once the baby decided that I was a chew-toy, I decided that they could chew on a beaker instead. By that stage, they could already get all the nutrients they needed from other sources.

      Of course, I blame this on the lactase mutation. Most mammalian babies stop producing lactase as soon as they are able to move onto a normal adult diet for their species, and so wean themselves. But many humans still produce lactase well into adulthood, so milk never becomes indigestible.

      • StephanieJR

        That’s a good point. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that cultures that didn’t have a big dairy industry in the past, like cattle or goats, are more likely to be lactose intolerant. I wonder if that could be researched, and at what age their babies show intolerance.

        • ukay

          According to Harold McGee, 98% of Scandinavians and 90% of Central Europeans are lactose tolerant into adulthood. The figure is around half of that for Southern Europeans.

  • Amazed

    Does anyone know where the loons hitting Dr Amy’s Facebook page came from? What good little sheeple – their master told them to jump and they did, boobs squirting milk everywhere around.

    Did NO ONE bothered to read what Dr Amy actually wrote? I fear for the world. These things are raising children and undoubtedly turning them into dumb privileged brats, just like their dumb privileged mommies.

    • Roadstergal

      I liked the one who asked for evidence, and when it was pointed out that Dr T got her info directly from the linked paper, changed the goalposts to ‘well, you can find a paper that says anything!’

      • Amazed

        I liked the pig of woman who told a mother that she had ruined her kids’ life by not feeding donor milk but formula feeding.

        It’s a sad situation when 99% of the wealth of the world is concentrated in the hands of families producing bitches privileged enough not to even think that perhaps not everyone can afford fucking donor milk. I know, I know it’s not feminist of me and all but I’ll say it again: what I’m seeing over there is a pack of rabid bitches.

        • kilda

          or maybe that the small amount of donor milk out there should be reserved for preemies who need it and have a medical indication for it?

          what are babies who can’t metabolize milk supposed to do? Die?

          • Amazed

            Who cares about them anyway? They’re naturally inferior. One of the bitches actually wrote vaginally-birthed, breastfed babies were superior, better quality.

            What scares me is that these pigs of women write all this on Facebook. If I held such views, you can bet I’d keep them away from the Facebook world because my family and friends will be repulsed. The fact that these creatures don’t have any such considerations means that their entire social net is made of fellow pigs.

          • kilda

            at the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, how very Nazi-esque of them.

          • ukay

            not even that uncalled for- the Nazis favorite childcare expert Johanna Haarer proclaimed breastfeeding one of the main duties of a German mother to her race, as it would ensure its superiority. Yes, it is the same Johanna Haarer who told mothers to ignore distraught babies.

          • kilda

            yes, I don’t break out the Nazi comparisons lightly, but it’s not even a reach here.

          • Ooh, reminds me of a fellow at my university who got quite drunk. As he vomited repeatedly, he yelled, “This isn’t supposed to happen! I am the master race!” Maybe if he’d been breastfed more as a baby he’d have been able to hold his liquor better.

          • ukay

            Probably only combo-fed.

          • StephanieJR

            You can always remind them that a large portion of serial killers (at least the older ones) were probably breastfed. Hell, considering increasing evidence that some forms of childhood brain damage can affect a persons ability to feel empathy, inadequate breast milk, along with other co founders, might have caused a couple to exist.

    • maidmarian555

      Urgh. I saw all that and I do wonder about their children. I mean, let’s say they’re right and having a vaginal birth and breastfeeding are ‘better’ for baby. How does having a mother that spends all of her free time being an insufferable bully on Facebook give those children a leg up in life? They’re so unkind. I really hope it’s some weird internet thing that makes them behave like that and they’re not parenting with zero empathy. They really don’t seem to care about anything other than massaging their own egos. As the child of a narcissist, I can attest that having a mother who only really cares about herself and is incapable of real empathy has a much bigger impact on a baby than whether that baby is breastfed.

      • Casual Verbosity

        For what it’s worth, the internet definitely brings out the worst in people. It’s basically deindividuation on steroids. You’ve got anonymity in the extreme because you’re not even in the same room as the people you’re arguing with and you know you’re never going to meet them in real life. And you’ve got the group mentality, which is heightened by how easy it is to show agreement simply by liking a comment.
        However, whether the situation of the internet is really strong enough to make otherwise lovely people behave so poorly is unclear. Personally, I believe the internet is like alcohol – it doesn’t change who you are; it simply makes you feel freer to be your true self.

        • maidmarian555

          I’d be gutted if I knew I had made any other woman cry to herself because of my anonymous cruelty. I do not doubt I might have said things at one time or another online that might have hurt feelings. But I’ve never done so deliberately. Those people are deliberately cruel. They seem to enjoy that cruelty. I have no clue how anyone could be comfortable with that.

          • Casual Verbosity

            So would I. I think that just means that we’re not horrible people.
            I really think that when it comes to lactivism, some women are just so insecure in themselves that they need to put others down in order to feel good about themselves. After all, it’s much easier to do that than to believe that you don’t have to be better than others in order to be okay.

    • Casual Verbosity

      I just want to say that amongst all the shit throwing, I actually managed to have a productive conversation with someone over there! I was amazed and it renewed my faith in humanity somewhat… but I couldn’t bring myself to interact with most of the parachuters. Even if I copied and pasted my responses from my productive conversation (which were thorough and rational in tone if I do say so myself), I know they wouldn’t actually bother to go and read the articles/ if they did they wouldn’t be scientifically literate enough to understand them, so I just could not be arsed.
      In a way I take a secret, guilty delight in those sorts of posts because it gets rather boring when we’re all there agreeing with each other, being kind, and thinking logically. But of course, then I walk around stewing for most of the day because the wilful ignorance and just plain callousness infuriates me!

      • Amazed

        I get the dirty delight thing. But these clowns did not even read what Dr Amy wrote before they started spewing their venom. There isn’t an actual argument because they don’t know what the hell they’re condemning. (I take it for granted that they didn’t read the post because they look like they have enough brains to tie their shoes which wouldn’t be the case if they read Dr Amy’s words and came up with this nonsense. They were sent there by their gurus to fight the natural fight and like good little followers, they rushed in, hackles raised.)

        • Casual Verbosity

          That is the most infuriating part of the whole thing. Generally the greatest amount of commenting seems to be directed at the memes, which granted unless you actively seek out more information, don’t have a whole lot of depth or context (because memes are not the medium for expressing depth and context). But when people are flying off the handle on the articles and it’s clear they haven’t even read them, I just want to throw my hands up in despair. I think that people just want a reason to be outraged, because moral outrage and self-righteous indignation is a way that we assure ourselves that we’re better than other people.

          P.S. Does anyone know where I can find my productive conversation? In particular I’m looking for a long comment I wrote with lots of links to studies and explanations of the studies. I’ve been looking for it for over an hour, but there are so many comments on the posts that my laptop is actually struggling when I start opening up all of the comment threads, and I just can’t seem to find it. I need to copy and paste it, because all of the self-righteous trolls are giddy over the fact that Dr Amy won’t individually respond to their petulant cries for “evidence”. So I just want to be able to go: copy-paste, copy-past.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            You could do what I do, and go into your personal Facebook history – that’s a much faster way to find your comments than trawling through a long thread with long sub-threads. When you’ve found the comment, clicking on the time-stamp gives you a direct link to that comment.

            Unfortunately, if your comment was part of a sub-thread and the original comment was deleted by the commenter, your comment is gone forever. 🙁

          • Casual Verbosity

            Ahh that’s a good idea! I completely forgot I could do that! In the end I remembered that someone had liked the comment so I scrolled through my notifications and that’s how I found it. When I found the comment I was greeted by the lovely surprise that the person I was speaking to had been convinced by my post.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            Oh, that is good news! I often wonder how much of an impact quiet persuasion like yours is making, against all the noisy lies of the fanatics; nice to find out that it is positive. Congratulations!

          • BeatriceC

            I often times wonder which FB names go along with which nyms here. I’m really easy to spot based on just my profile and cover photos, but most people not so much.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            I often times wonder which FB names go along with which nyms here.

            You know, you’ve made me realise that I’ve never thought about it. It’s not that I don’t think about there being a person behind the keyboard; of course I do. It’s just that I’ve no interest in tying together different accounts on different sites, even for people I know really well in real life under their given names, and where I happen to know their chosen ‘nyms also.

            I started this comment last night, and fell asleep before completing it. My brain has been considering whether (and, if so, why) I’m odd in this regard (well, that I’m generally ‘odd’ probably goes without saying!). I woke up thinking that possibly this is tied into my autism and prosopagnosia, which, even in the days before internet friends, has always made it difficult for me to recognise people in different settings as being the same people. So discontinuity is my ‘normal’ when it comes to my experience of other people.

            Also, since I was a child, I have never had the slightest clue what other people are thinking or feeling unless they tell me; so I take at face-value anything they do care to tell me, regardless of whether that is spoken or typed on the internet.

            All of that is possibly why I use the same ‘nym (or variations of it; Tigger the ‘Wing is my GoldWing) all over the internet – otherwise my experience of myself becomes fractured!

          • FallsAngel

            Reading your and BeatriceC’s posts I have to agree about wondering which FB names go along with people here. Some people post under the same name both places, sometimes with some variation in capital letters, initials instead of full names, etc.

            Now unlike you, Tigger, I use my “real name” on FB and on the comment boards that use FB’s platform. When I joined FB, I thought you had to use your real name. I’ve said I don’t like to use my name on comment boards because I have an unusual last name, for here in the US anyway, and my kids have the same last name and unusual first names. I also have several other nyms I use occasionally on other boards, and I’ve used “FallsAngel” on other boards as well. FYI, it’s a play on words, my home town is Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and I have an angel “thing”. I collect them.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            I use my real name on Facebook, which is the only place I use it, but I’m pretty sure it would only take seconds to find me.

      • BeatriceC

        My conflict aversion and anxiety issues have kept me from reading the comments on those posts. Sometimes this makes me sad.

        • Casual Verbosity

          For your own good just stay away. I wish I had, but I’ve opened the floodgates and now I just have to ride out the tidal wave.

  • Mel

    I’ll breast-feed an infant until age three when Dr. Martin brings in enough protein using only non-metal weapons that he makes himself to support me through pregnancy and lactation as well as my mobile baby son.

    Feeding Spawn a supplemental food until he was old enough to start scarfing down finger foods is far more historically accurate than a man supporting himself and his family as an academic.

    • Roadstergal

      Making a weapon? Unnatural! He needs to bring in protein with only his hands and teeth.

    • Sheven

      Alternately, men have the equipment to breastfeed, and if women are supposed to take seventeen different kinds of medications and pump until milk comes, men should do it too.

    • kilda

      better start knapping that flint, Dr Martin!

      • BeatriceC

        Nope. Use of a flint is technology. Really primitive technology, but still technology.

        • kilda

          hmm. what if he just throws a rock at the prey? Does that count as tool use?

          • Roadstergal

            A rock is just a nipple shield for men. No go!

          • Casual Verbosity

            There’s nothing that can be done with a rock that can’t be done better without one.

          • BeatriceC

            If it’s anything besides his bare hands, it’s a tool, so nope.

            On that note, there are a handful of non-human species that have been observed to use tools, but only two (that I know of) that not only make and use tools, but store them for future use. Goffins Cockatoos and Ravens both store and reuse tools, which is a pretty interesting thing to watch, except when one of those Goffins Cockatoos is in your living room and uses those tools to break out of his cage when you have to leave him alone during the day.

    • J.B.

      Other mammals can’t speak, so maybe he should give up his computer and only communicate in grunts.

      • Tigger_the_Wing

        You now have me wondering if there is an extension I could add to my browser which would, after having the nyms entered, automatically replace the comments of particularly egregious anti-science people with “Ugh. Uggugguggugh. Ugguggugguggugh.” etc.

      • BeatriceC

        I have animals that talk back to me using actual words, but they’re not mammals. One is currently yelling up a storm about what I have no idea, but he’s clearly pissed about something.

    • Claire Secrist

      Being reduced to primitive biological and social functions is for women. Men get to buy their meat at the store and cook it on gas powered grills. Just ask Dr Martin.

  • Roadstergal

    Yes, mammals are named after breasts. And Homo sapiens is named after thinking. I’ll take that one.

    • Mel

      We could have been named after hair – and the fact that his argument on extremely extended breastfeeding is partly based on a historical fluke of linguistics is a good sign of how shaky the whole argument is.

      • Casual Verbosity

        I thought that was a really big jump to make. “Mammals” are a classification made up by humans to try and categorise things, as we tend to enjoy doing because it makes us feel like the world is safe and controllable. We’re called “mammals” because that’s the defining feature of this group. It’s something that we all have in common with each other, but that other groups don’t share (as far as I’m aware). Non-mammals can have hair and give birth to live young, and I’m not sure about the neocortex and having three middle-ear bones things, but even if other animals didn’t have them, it would be sort of hard to come up with a catchy name based on those features.

        • Mel

          The two “unique” features of mammals that do not appear else where are hair and production of milk from modified skin glands.

          I was also irritated by his vast oversimplification that all female mammals develop a need to feel suckling infants since non-placental mammals don’t have nipples / teats so their babies lap instead of sucking.

    • kilda

      seriously. They’re glorified sweat glands, people. Get over it.

    • StephanieJR

      Are any other animals defined so much by their mammary glands? Except for cows, but we kinda made them that way.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Can I make a meme with that?

      • Roadstergal

        Absolutely!

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    As I’ve said before, making stuff to make our lives easier is as natural for us as growing hair. And yet my spouse totally sucks at growing hair on his head. He hasn’t had a full head of hair since high school. Literally, poor bloke

    • Tigger_the_Wing

      Poor bloke. Genetics can be cruel, right? One of my sons suddenly lost nearly every hair on his head as a teen, but he was luckier than his cousins. A couple of years later, my son’s hair grew back and he’s had a long ponytail for nearly twenty years; but his cousins, who lost all of theirs equally suddenly when they were a bit older, have been totally bald ever since.

      My father has a full head of hair in his eighties (so perhaps my genes helped my son) and my husband still has all his hair in his sixties, but his brother (the cousins’ father) started going bald in his thirties.

  • jessiebird

    As a medical anthropologist, I can say that there are many reputable scholars who can be quite biologically deterministic.

    What they forget, and many do not realize, is that one of our many major adaptations is CULTURE. If you don’t consider that factor in any analysis of human biology, behavior, evolution, etc, you are missing a huge part of the picture. We are not merely mammals; we are mammals with language. (This is important!) Heck, as Amy, and many other scholars, have often said one way or another: Nature itself is a culturally-constructed concept. (And our western notions of “nature” are really different from those in say, East Asia.)

    Nature is reified in late 20th/early 21st century Western discourse, to say the least.

    It is hypothesized (I think Blaffer Hrdy, among others–not my expertise–goes into this) that humans evolved to what we are now because of social support in birth, including interventions only possible by a third party present at the birth (e.g., reaching into the vagina and turning the baby, caring diligently for the mother for weeks postpartum, wet-nursing infants…).

    Never forget the role of culture in human evolution!! 🙂 Viva la culture! Human culture(s) is an amazing, life-saving adaption to the problems of survival (which is what all adaptations are!)

    (Soapbox over. Thank you.)

    PS Culture is not without problems, to be sure, but that’s a different discussion.